Everything you Need to Know About Hiking the Standing Stone Trail in South Central Pennsylvania + Day Hike Suggestions!

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Part of the Great Eastern Trail network, the Standing Stone Trail (SST) is an 84-mile long hiking trail spanning three Pennsylvania counties.

Those looking for a 7-10 day adventure across the south-central Pennsylvania mountains, or even a challenging day of hiking some of the connector sections, should look no further. From stunning vistas to historical pathways, the Standing Stone Trail is a great multi-day hike connecting to other long-distance trails in the region.

The Great Eastern Trail connects everything from the state line at Florida-Alabama to New York, over 1,800 miles. The trail travels through the Seven Mountains and Blue Mountain regions, making for some challenging elevation changes.

Without further ado, here is all the information you will need to plan your adventures on the Standing Stone Trail.

Table of Contents

History of the Trail Area
Thru Hiking the Standing Stone Trail
Day Hikes on the Standing Stone Trail
Trail Hazards
Make Sure to Pack These Things

History of the Standing Stone Trail

The Standing Stone Trail originally came to be in the 1970s but went by a different name.

Originally known as the “Link Trail,” literally linking the Tuscarora and the Midstate trails, the name was changed in 2007.

Much of the area is rugged with a deep industrial history, with many old iron furnaces dotted along. You even pass right by one on the Greenwood section of the trail.

One of the most notable sections, the Thousand Steps segment, was built by stone quarry workers in the mid-1900s to ease their commute up the mountain to work every day.

In the 1990s the trail was almost left abandoned and overgrown, but it is now entirely maintained by a club of volunteers who do a great job keeping it accessible.

Thru Hiking the Standing Stone Trail

Marked entirely by orange blazes, the Standing Stone Trail crosses between two State Parks, through State Forests and Game Lands, as well as over privately owned lands.

Traversing the rocky ridges and providing stunning vista after stunning vista, this is a challenging hike.

When planning your daily mileage goals and itinerary, plan conservatively. Covering the whole thing in anything less than 8 days would be ambitious for most.

Restocking supplies is possible in the towns of Mapleton and Three Springs.

Mapleton is located centrally on the trail, while Three Springs is toward the southern end. Some road walking is required to thru-hike the SST, with 5-6 miles of it directly south of Three Springs.

Some of the southernmost stretches of the trail also cross private farmland, and stiles are built over the fences (a setup that looks like a ladder on one side and a few stairs on the other) to help scale them.

There are a few spots where three-sided shelters have been built for overnight accommodations, and suggestions for nearly 20 camping spots along the trail can be found on the club’s website.

A note regarding camping: Overnight stays are not permitted on State Game Lands, so be sure to know the boundaries when setting up your tents for the night.

There aren’t yet official printed maps for this trail because rerouting and trail work is still happening. Free, printable versions can also be found on the trail website.

Where Should Your Hike Begin?

The preferred hiking direction for most is from south to north, beginning at Cowans Gap State Park and trekking north.

At the southern end, the trail connects with the Tuscarora Trail, a 250+ mile alternative hiking route to the Appalachian Trail that passes through four states.

The northern end passes through Greenwood Furnace State Park and continues on the Greenwood Spur.

The Standing Stone Trail eventually terminates at Pennsylvania’s Midstate Trail, which covers 323 miles and also connects to others like the Finger Lakes Trail at the New York border.

Parking is available at both State Parks at each end of the trail for free at the visitor’s centers. Just be sure to notify the visitor’s center that you are thru-hiking so that your car doesn’t get ticketed or towed!

Best Day Hikes on the Standing Stone Trail

1,000 Steps

View looking down over a portion of the Thousand Steps trail

One of the most popular hikes on the Standing Stone Trail is undoubtedly the Thousand Steps.

Yes, the name also means exactly what you are thinking.

This trail leads up over 1,000 stone steps lodged into the side of Jack’s Mountain.

The stairs were built by sandstone quarry workers around 1936 to ease their daily commute to work. People used to do this daily, and then perform difficult physical labor at the stone quarry.

Think about that as you climb the steps, huffing and puffing.

A large parking area is available at the bottom of the trail, just east of Mapleton on route 22. The trail begins at the far end of the parking area.

water feature at the base of the Thousand Steps trail

At the beginning of the trail, you’ll find a small water feature to the left.

There is also a site with historical information not far from the bottom, which is worth stopping to read.

At the top of this out and back trail, after climbing the 1,000 stairs, there are two points of interest you should be sure to see.

First, head to the right following the blue marked trail less than 100 yards and you will be treated to views of the Juniata River and the town of Mapleton below through Jack’s Narrows.

view from the Mapleton overlook

Return back the way you came to the top of the steps and continue on in the opposite direction to see the Dinkey Shed.

This small stone structure was used as a repair shop for the trains used at the quarry. The area in the middle, now filled with dirt and stones, used to be empty so that repairmen could safely and easily climb underneath the train cars to perform any necessary maintenance and repairs.

Dinkey Shed at the top of Thousand Steps

After exploring these two points, you can either continue on up the hill past the Dinkey Shed for more wooded hiking or retrace your steps to the bottom of the mountain.

This hike could be as short as 1.5 miles, but your legs will feel like Jell-O at the end!

Throne Room Vista

One of, if not the best vista, on the Standing Stone Trail is the Throne Room.

view from the top of the Throne Room Vista on the Standing Stone Trail

The shortest way to reach this vista is by parking at the trail opening on Jack’s Mountain Road and hiking about 1.5 miles back south on the trail.

Jack’s Mountain Road is all dirt and not well maintained, so in inclement weather, 4WD and/or high clearance vehicles would be helpful.

The first stretch of trail begins on a logging access or ATV road. It is flat and easy to navigate, which is quite opposite of the rest of the hike.

After about 3/4 mile on this path, be sure to pay attention on your right, as the trail cuts up the hillside on a single track. It could be easily missed, as the wide path continues on.

The rest of the hike to the vista is a fairly steady, sometimes quite steep, 0.7-mile climb to the top.

There are three separate vistas in just a short span here along the tallest ridge on the trail.

This would be a great spot to stop for lunch on the rocks, prior to returning to your vehicle.

Alternatively, parking is available off of Jack’s Tower Road, and for a longer hike, continue north past the Jack’s Mountain Fire Tower to catch the same stunning views from the opposite end.

capturing the views at  the top of the Throne Room Vista

Rocky Ridge Natural Area

For a short, but not without challenge, hike head to the Rocky Ridge and 3 Sisters Natural Area.

Parking is available on the side of Frew Road in the State Forest where the trail crosses the road. There is room here for 8-10 cars to easily pull off the side of the road.

The hike begins on a flat stretch, but after crossing a small stream, quickly begins the uphill climb.

After reaching the top, you will be greeted by huge rock formations jutting up from the forest and ridgeline.

Rocky Ridge Natural Area on the Standing Stone Trail

The Standing Stone route does lead over, around, and through the boulders.

A yellow marked bypass trail leads just below the formations, so you can see them from a distance without scrambling. The bypass is also known as the Dogwood Trail, and could be used to turn this hike into a short loop.

Though the hill climb could be challenging, children would likely have a blast climbing the boulders.

This hike covers about 2 miles, but really depends on how much you choose to explore!

In spring and early summer, the area boasts spectacular displays of wildflowers awaiting you.

Greenwood Furnace Loop

Towards the northern end of the trail, prior to setting out on the Greenwood Spur, a loop trail including some of the Greenwood Furnace State Park trails is a great five-mile workout.

Plenty of parking for this hike is available and located across PA 305 from the park office.

We’d recommend hiking this route “backward.”

The Orange trail to the left is the Standing Stone Trail. Yellow Trail to the right is the Monsell Trail.

Head down the Standing Stone Trail at the far left end of the parking area, and prior to leaving the wooded area, take the yellow marked Monsell Trail up the hill as seen in the photo above.

The Monsell Trail leads to the Lorence Trail on the left, which continues for one mile through heavily wooded hillsides.

At the four-way intersection with the Turkey Trail, take the left up the steep Turkey Trail.

Towards the top, there are both stone steps and switchbacks to navigate.

At the top of the hill, you’ve reached the intersection with the Standing Stone Trail!

Take the trail left, and just a half-mile on this stretch, which is much flatter at the top, will lead out to the beautiful Stone Valley Vista.

A trail register sits at the overlook. Cross the rocks, through a stretch of hemlocks, and pass the more difficult portion of the two-mile downhill drop, returning back to the parking lot.

Near the end, you’ll pass the Greenwood Furnace Church, built in 1867. Make a quick pit stop to learn a bit about the history of this building before returning to your car.

Cowan’s Gap Loop

This loop begins at the southernmost trailhead for the Standing Stone Trail in Cowan’s Gap State Park. Here, the trail also connects to the Tuscarora Trail.

The southern trail head of the Standing Stone Trail in Cowan's Gap State Park

If parking at the main visitor’s center by the beach, take the Tuscarora Trail along the north end of the lake.

The Standing Stone Trail to begin this hike is just across the spillway bridge at the northwest corner of Cowan’s Gap Lake.

Standing Stone Trail along Cowan's Gap Lake

The hike passes along the western edge of the lake, then turns right at the far end to follow what appears to be an old logging path up the hillside.

You’ll pass unique-looking remnants of a rock slide that occurred in 1996 and a CCC incinerator along the way, prior to reaching the Cowan’s Gap Overlook.

This overlook would be a great place to catch a sunrise over Cowan’s Gap for the early riser!

Cowan's Gap Overlook on the Standing Stone Trail

After stopping at the overlook, continue on the trail to the top of the ridge.

You’ll notice multiple trails heading in different directions, but be sure to follow those orange markers.

If beginning a Standing Stone hike at Cowan’s Gap, this section of the trail provides the first look at the rocky ridgelines this trail crosses, but only for a short distance.

first taste of the rocky ridges

To return back to Cowan’s Gap State Park, take the Horseshoe Trail to the right back down a very steep drop, taking you back to the Tuscarora Trail.

Traill makers near the southern end of the Standing Stone trail at the Horseshoe trail junction

This hike covers about 3.5 miles but could be extended for a longer hike by continuing on the Standing Stone to the Wagner Trail, which also connects to the Tuscarora.

Stone Mountain Hawk Watch

From a parking area on the Mifflin-Huntington County line on Allensville Road, follow the orange-blazed trail to the left through the woods and across a rock field for about 1/4 mile.

Stay on the trail across the narrow ridgeline will lead to the Stone Mountain Hawk Watch platform, built by local birdwatching groups.

The hike to the lookout is quite short but provides beautiful views of the mountains and valleys beyond from an elevation of 2100 feet.

Though the hike is short, this is a very popular spot for birding enthusiasts, so plan your time accordingly if this is an activity that you also enjoy.

This is also one of the more accessible portions of the trail for hikers of many ability levels.

Monument Rock

Honestly, if we had to leave one-off, this would be it. Since Monument Rock is what the trail is named for, though, it is included here.

To make this hike a day hike, begin at the Ramsey Path trailhead on Sinoquipe Road.

Ramsey Path trail head hidden back off of a rural road

This trailhead is difficult to find. The “parking area” is really just pulling off the side of the road, and there is only room for a couple of cars to do so. The signage for the trailhead is also back a few feet from the road, and there isn’t really an opening in the woods, so its extremely easy to pass up.

You’ll find the Ramsey Path trailhead near the location above. Keep a lookout for the sign back off the road, on the right when heading north.

Also, please note: part of this trailhead passes through privately owned land, so be respectful and stay on the trail!

This hike also covers about 2 miles, depending on how much exploring you do, and passes by boulder-covered hillsides in addition to Monument Rock.

It’s not extremely tall or noteworthy but is the trail namesake, so some may be more enticed to visit than others.

Hazards and Things to Watch out For on the Trail

Black Bears

Though an uncommon sight in the Pennsylvania woods, black bears are creatures to be conscious of while hiking here.

This is more of a concern for those thru-hiking and camping, so knowing how to hang a bear bag for food is an extremely useful skill here.

Particularly a concern during spring and early summer when cubs are small, it is important to be aware of your surroundings and not find yourself between a mama and her cubs.

Otherwise, black bears will typically be long gone before you even catch a glimpse of them.

Timber rattlesnakes

One of three venomous snakes endemic to Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas, timber rattlesnakes can be found especially during the summer months on the rocky ridgelines of the Standing Stone.

The female snakes enjoy basking in the sunshine on the warm rocks.

Typically, you’ll hear the snakes before you see them, giving you plenty of time to avoid them, but take caution nonetheless.

Being bit by a timber rattlesnake can be deadly, so seeking medical attention immediately is crucial if such a medical emergency should occur.

Identify these vipers by their wide heads, yellow ellipse eyes, and V or W-striped markings down the back. They also typically grow to 3-5 feet in length.

Keep your eyes, and ears, open for these creatures to avoid any severe misfortune on the trail.

Severe Weather

Severe weather on the Standing Stone Trail can be hazardous for a few reasons.

First and foremost, being at the top of the ridgelines can leave you extremely exposed to the elements including heavy rains, wind, and lightning.

The rock fields are very exposed, and crossing one in the wind and rain could be treacherous. One wrong step could result in serious injury with no way to call for rescue.

Just hiking on the wet terrain, including wet rocks any time of the year and wet leaves in the fall, significantly increases your chances of sustaining a fall. Plan accordingly.

Alternatively, if hiking any portion of this trail in the winter, wear appropriate footwear. Snow and ice grips should be considered, as well.

Poison Ivy

As with any hiking done in rural Pennsylvania, be sure to keep an eye out, especially when going off trail for campsites or using the restroom, for poison ivy.

Identify it by its three large leaves, with the one in the center usually the largest. The tips of the leaves are typically pointed.

Rashes occur when a person comes into contact with the oil, urushiol, secreted by the plant, and symptoms typically develop within 2 days. Rashes from poison ivy can be very red, itchy, and blister, sometimes lasting 2-3 weeks.

This would be quite an unpleasant way to spend your time on the trail, so do yourself a favor and know what to look for prior to your trip!

What to Pack for Your Standing Stone Trip

Trekking Poles: Your quads and knees will thank you on the steep ascents, descents, and boulder field crossings.

Sturdy Closed-Toe Footwear: I love my Chaco’s as much as the next person, but they’re not appropriate for this trail. The rocky terrain combined with the chance to encounter a rattlesnake? Just don’t do it.

Extra Ways to Carry Water: Some of the water sources are as far as 10 miles apart, which can be quite far in the summer with 90-degree temperatures.

Insect Repellant: During the warmer months, the insects and ticks on the trail can be quite nasty, so repellant can make them significantly more tolerable.

Wrapping Up: Hiking the Standing Stone Trail

Whether planning an intense thru-hike or an exciting day hike on the SST, you will certainly not be disappointed by the views and the scenery.

Though some stretches are quite challenging, others have been cleaned up and rerouted. Some pass along old logging and ATV roads. Stunning vistas and a little touch of history can be found along the Standing Stone Trail.

Quickly becoming one of the premier backpacking trails in Pennsylvania, the SST is one that should definitely not be missed by backpacking enthusiasts and adventurous day hikers alike!

Have you hiked any of the Standing Stone Trail or even thru hiked? What are your favorite Pennsylvania backpacking trails?